As the year comes to a close we looked back at the 62 plays that we had the opportunity to review since January 2013. The plays we covered included mostly professional plus a small group of community theatre productions.
Due to overlapping schedules and travel concerns because of weather and other considerations it was, of course, not physically possible to cover the nearly 100 productions that invited us to review. That said...here (with our review comments) is our selection of performers and/or productions that we award a "Footlight" for excellence.
This was no easy task, the level of performances were equal to most of the activity across the Hudson. Not surprising since much of our talent works both sides of the river. Simply put...theater is alive and well in New Jersey.
The Women’s Theater Company’s production of Master Class is directed by Barbara Krajkowski and stars Katrina Ferguson as the fiery opera star Maria Callas. Master Class is based on Maria Callas' voice master classes she conducted at New York's Julliard School of Music toward the end of her career (1977).
To say that Katrina Ferguson is magnificent in this role may be an understatement. Whereas Callas conducted a master class for opera students, Ferguson conducts a master class in acting. She could easily have taken over the role during its Broadway run. This lady owns the WTC's stage for the better part of two hours. She beautifully captures the spirit and style of the great diva. She is glamorous... dressed in a black pants suit with a long red scarf...very elegant and highly attractive. Her mild Greek accent works perfectly in adding to her commanding role of teacher to operatic novices.
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, nationally acclaimed for its productions of the plays of William Shakespeare and other classics, has launched the Fall portion of its 2013 season with a non-classic, the world premiere of A Most Dangerous Woman. Written by Cathy Tempelsman and directed by Tony-Award winner Richard Maltby, Jr., this is an outstanding play about an exceptional woman, George Eliot, starring an exceptional actress, Aedin Moloney (photo above). Ms. Moloney, making her Shakespeare Theatre debut, is absolutely perfect in the role of the famed Victorian author George Eliot.
Aedin Moloney may be the tiniest person on the stage, but she dominates every scene even with a simple nod of the head. A particular joy is the way she uses her unique, somewhat dark voice.
Last night we witnessed another mesmerizing (knockout may be a better word) lesson in acting from Harriet Trangucci at the Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre in Summit. The play The Other Place by Sharr White and directed by Clark Carmichael is a New Jersey premiere.
Harriet Trangucci is a key member of the Dreamcatcher's rep company, We first saw her as the mother in Distracted about three years ago ("Leading the cast is Harriet Trangucci, who is on stage during the entire two hours and is our narrator, she is perfect as "Mama" the loving, sensitive mother.) Just this past spring she co-starred with Duncan M. Rogers in Neil Simon's Plaza Suite at the Bickford Theatre. Then we said: Harriet Trangucci..." is a marvelous actress who moves through these three stories perfectly." The words "perfect" and "marvelous" normally are the highest praise you can give to an actor, but Harriet Trangucci has provided us in The Other Place with a performance worthy of any stage. Simply put, the play is good, but Trangucci is great. Her final scene is incredible.
DUNCAN M. ROGERS
In New Jersey Repertory Company’s middlemen we have middle manager Stanley Cahill (Duncan Rogers) and fiscal analyst Michael Aaronson (David Friedlander). They work in Manhattan in their adjoining offices on the sixtieth floor, somehow oblivious to the mass departure of co-workers, fiercely intent on completing the corporation's annual report.
The two actors masterfully hold our attention for 90 minutes (no intermission). David Friedlander, as the financial analyst Michael Aaronson, nails the naive, shy bachelor who is easily influenced by the senior Cahill. It may be a bit of a reach, but their relationship reminded me of Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel in the "Producers." In any play all roles are never quite equal, and that is true even in a two character play as middlemen. Duncan Rogers IS the tormented Stanley Cahill. Rogers, not so simply, is giving a master class in acting.
This past Sunday we journeyed to the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick to see "Good People" by the author of two favorite plays,"Rabbit Hole" and "Fuddy Meers," David Lindsay-Abaire. The result; we were rewarded with an experience best described with one simple word "wow." This play, these performers, the creative effort of the production team, all combined to remind us again of the incomparable magic of live theatre. This is brilliant theatre. Far different than his quirky and very funny "Fuddy Meers" David Lindsay-Abairesets his play about the struggles of life in the blue collar, working class area of South Boston where he grew up and a local is called "Southie."
The heroine-victim of "Good People" is Margaret, played brilliantly by Ellen McLaughlin.
Centenary Stage Company’s “Deathtrap:” Just in time for the run up to Halloween, Director Carl Wallnau and friends have launched the Centenary Stage Company's Fall main stage production.... Ira Levin’s now classic master murder-mystery Deathtrap. As with the recent hilarious production of Ladies Man, Wallnau masterfully doubles as director and male lead. He is better than perfect as Sidney Bruhl the playwright with a severe case of writer's block with murder in his heart, or does he? Wallnau is having a romp ('a jolly good time'...the Brits would say) in this devilishly delicious thriller.
We have frequently used the statement "theatre is alive and well in New Jersey" in response to the many excellent productions we've had the privilege to review these past several years. Artistic directors such as McCarter's Emily Mann, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's Bonnie J. Monte and the George Street's David Saint (all New Jersey treasures) continually present productions equal or superior to anything found on the other side of the Hudson.
This past Sunday we journeyed to the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick to see "Good People" by the author of two favorite plays,"Rabbit Hole" and "Fuddy Meers," David Lindsay-Abaire. The result; we were rewarded with an experience best described with one simple word "wow." This play, these performers, the creative effort of the production team, all combined to remind us again of the incomparable magic of live theatre. This is brilliant theatre.
A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN
The Luna Stage’s version of this, O’Neil’s final play, is masterfully directed by Nancy Robillard with a perfect cast of Equity professionals. The play may be described as bleak and melancholy without a “they lived happily forever after” ending, but to see the absolutely marvelous performances by Claire Warden as Josie Hogan, Paul Carlin as Phil Hogan and David Sedgwick as James Tyrone, Jr. is stellar entertainment. Drama students and teachers will find this production an acting master class.
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s Tovarich is a very funny romantic comedy that was written by a French man, playwright Jacques Deval in 1933, and adapted two years later by the distinguished American author Robert E. Sherwood. Bonnie Monte, the Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, is the director of the production. If the title is familiar, a movie version was produced in 1937 starring Claudette Colbert and Charles Boyer.
Now Jon Barker and Carly Street may not be Claudette Colbert and Charles Boyer clones, however they are simply fabulous as the Prince and the Duchess. Jon makes a perfect handsome, dashing prince. He has impressed in all his recent Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey efforts from Cassio in "Othello" to Ferdinand Gadd in "Trelawny," and as Tesla in Luna Stage's "Dangers of Electricity."
Carly Street has all the right regal moves as the Duchess. Beyond her beauty, she is marvelous regardless of whether she's poaching food, serving drinks, washing dishes, teaching the various "kisses" of Russian society, or facing the hated Commissar.
THE WHITE SNAKE
McCarter Theatre Center: Yes, this is a fairy tale, but it is an elegant visual treat, performed and staged in such a gorgeous manner (marvelous costumes, puppets, music, sound and lighting effects and highly inventive scenery elements including billowing sheets representing mountains, sea and clouds) that this may be the most memorable theatre event you will experience this year.
GOD OF CARNAGE (Non-Equity)
Two years ago this month we reviewed the Chatham Community Players production of David Mamet's drama "Glengarry Glen Ross" directed by Chase Newhart and featuring Michael King as the desperate Shelly Levene and Robert Mackasek as the meek George Aaronow. Our review included these lines "This production directed by Chase Newhart is simply sensational. The seven men in the cast are giving Broadway level performances." The production went on to win the Perry Award, the NJ community theatre's highest honor.
Now two years almost to the day the three are reunited in a new production at the Summit Playhouse of French playwright Yasmina Reza's extraordinary, Tony winning play "God of Carnage." The word "extraordinary" also applies to the performances of the four actors; Michael King (who most recently earned bows for his fine performance in Summit Playhouse's "Best Man") is Alan a high powered attorney of questionable morals consumed with his business world, Bob Mackasek is Michael, a self-made man whose yuppie veneer quickly crumbles as the evening progresses, Claire McKinney-Mulhern is Annette, Alan's wealth management wife, and Elizabeth Royce is Veronica, a social crusader, author of a book on the situation in Dafour and highly protective mother.
Before we go any further, if you appreciate superior acting in a superior play this is a "must see event" regardless of having seen the award winning Broadway production with James Gandolfini and or the excellent George Street version two years ago. King, Mackasek, McKinney and Royce are giving electric performances.
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (Non-Equity)
This year Clifford Parrish is both the music and stage director for the Chester Theatre Group's production of the Tony and Oscar winning musical "Fiddler On The Roof." Result: Cliff Parrish has surpassed his "1776" triumph with this truly outstanding "Fiddler."
Working with a fine multi-generational cast of 35 and a 10 piece orchestra (all in the intimate 100 seat in-the round Black River Playhouse) he and producer Ellen Fraker-Glasscock, along with a highly dedicated support staff, including choreographer Megan Ferentinos and set designer Steve Catron, have produced a theatre event worthy of just about any stage. Remember this is a community theatre where all but the musicians are unpaid volunteers.
Leading the large cast as Tevye, the milkman, husband, father of five daughters and disciple of tradition, is Scott M. Jacoby. Jacoby, a CTG veteran actor and director since 1974. is a perfect Tevye with his strong stage presence and commanding voice. Jacoby is nicely paired with Ruth Fouda as Tevye's wife Golde. Fouda's impressive opera trained voice shines, particularly in the first act "Sabbath Prayer" and again in the tender second act duet with Tevye "Do You Love Me." Jacoby impressively nails the now classic lament "If I Were A Rich Man."